The Art of LaKota Scott

Art has colored LaKota Scott’s life since birth. Growing up in Tuba City she watched her father, a sculptor, painter and fan maker, and other family members who were basket makers create beautiful pieces through their skill. As a child, she helped her father make fans. It was a natural apprenticeship that taught her the techniques and trademarks of both. Even now, she says with a laugh, that when she goes home she still gets put back to work.

It wasn’t until she left home for college at Dartmouth in New Hampshire that she realized how much a part of her life art was. The first year there she didn’t take any art classes. It left her feeling something was missing. The following year she decided to take a drawing class and made sure she included an art class each year after that. She’d learned how important it was to her overall life. “My grades improved a lot after taking an art class every quarter,” she says.

Art wasn’t the only thing she missed at Dartmouth. Although she found a strong Native community there, she found herself homesick for her culture and traditions, for the stories her people told. It was a longing that would begin to inform her own art.

What she did enjoy were the diverse art classes at Dartmouth. The school encouraged open-ended assignments and supported their students with whatever they needed. It was in a sculpture class that LaKota began working with wire. One assignment had her making a sculpture larger than herself. She made a basket she could sit in. She says it “looked like a giant shell”, but it was one step toward creating the baskets she now makes

It was the stories she remembered that began to inspire her art. Using traditional Navajo basket designs, she sculpted the pieces in wire only at first, then transitioning to using leather for the inner coil. The meaning of the story was sculpted into the wire design. For example, a piece based on the seasonal change to Spring has a color gradation from black to pink to show sunrise and symbols of lightning and thunder to show the transition from Winter to Spring. She uses a limited palette of colors and incorporates variations of them.

LaKota sees other indigenous artists who, like her, have taken on their parents’ art forms. They are, however, taking those forms in a different direction. To her, it is because of all their parents fought for that they can find this new direction. “Most of our parents faced those who wanted to take away their native identity through the boarding school era.” She feels it doesn’t really work today to narrowly define what is Native art because she says “We’ve grown up being proud of being Native and are pushing the boundaries of what is and isn’t “Native” art because we are changing and adapting.” She believes many younger artists are using their art to explore identity and to get important issues out. To her, they are cultivating activism through their art.

Today, LaKota Scott is following the path of her mother, who is a nurse. She is a pre-med student in Portland, Oregon. Her journey into the healing field blends both her art and her culture, much as her father, both sculptor and medicine man, did.  For her, it is a holistic approach to both life and art.

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